, Volume 34, Issue 2-3, pp 325-343
Date: 11 Nov 2008

The impact of perturbations to ocean-model parameters on climate and climate change in a coupled model

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Abstract

Assessments of the impacts of uncertainties in parameters on mean climate and climate change in complex climate models have, to date, largely focussed on perturbations to parameters in the atmosphere component of the model. Here we expand on a previously published study which found the global impacts of perturbed ocean parameters on the rate of transient climate change to be small compared to perturbed atmosphere parameters. By separating the climate-change-induced ocean vertical heat transport in each perturbed member into components associated with the resolved flow and each parameterisation scheme, we show that variations in global mean heat uptake in different perturbed versions are an order of magnitude smaller than the average heat uptake. The lack of impact of the perturbations is attributed to (1) the relatively small impact of the perturbation on the direct vertical heat transport associated with the perturbed process and (2) a compensation between those direct changes and indirect changes in heat transport from other processes. Interactions between processes and changes appear to combine in complex ways to limit ensemble spread and uncertainty in the rate of warming. We also investigate regional impacts of the perturbations that may be important for climate change predictions. We find variations across the ensemble that are significant when measured against natural variability. In terms of the experimental set-up used here (models without flux adjustments) we conclude that perturbed physics ensembles with ocean parameter perturbations are an important component of any probabilistic estimate of future climate change, despite the low spread in global mean quantities. Hence, careful consideration should be given to assessing uncertainty in ocean processes in future probabilistic assessments of regional climate change.